Drug Law

Latin America Moves Toward Drug Decriminalization

| by Reason Foundation

In a report issued last week, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a U.N. agency based in Vienna, bemoans recent moves toward drug decriminalization in Latin America:

The Board notes with concern that in countries in South America, such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia (and in countries in North America, such as Mexico and the United States), there is a growing movement to decriminalize the possession of controlled drugs, in particular cannabis, for personal use. Regrettably, influential personalities, including former high-level politicians in countries in South America, have publicly expressed their support for that movement. The Board is concerned that the movement, if not resolutely countered by the respective Governments, will undermine national and international efforts to combat the abuse of and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs. In any case, the movement poses a threat to the coherence and effectiveness of the international drug control system and sends the wrong message to the general public.

Is the INCB right to worry that reducing or eliminating criminal penalties for possessing small quantities of illegal drugs will undermine international efforts to block the production and distribution of those substances? That is the board's excuse for meddling in the domestic policies of the countries that have adopted a less punitive approach to drug users, but it is hard to imagine how "the international drug control system" could become more farcical than it already is. The INCB is right that locking up people who assist drug use does not make much sense when the actual users are not doing anything worthy of punishment. But since when have prohibitionists, who arbitrarily distinguish between intoxicants based on nothing more than prejudice and historical accident, been concerned about making sense? To say that decriminalizing drug use "poses a threat to the coherence and effectiveness of the international drug control system" is like saying that a malfunctioning Teleprompter poses a threat to the coherence and effectiveness of the Swedish Chef

More on Latin American deviation from hard-line prohibitionism here, here, and here.